Tag: history

Save Harlem: Historic Hughes Home in Danger

Langston Hughes - sentado a la máquina de escribir
Langston Hughes

A historic Harlem and American landmark is in danger due to gentrification.  African American poet Langston Hughes’ home is in danger of being sold to developers.  Several media outlets released the story this week, including EssenceNews One and CNN.  The effort to save this historic building is being led by local artists Renee Watson and the I, Too Collective.  The current owner of the space, while wishing to sell, does not want to see the home fall prey to the gentrification trend that has been occurring in Harlem — turning beautiful old spaces into coffee shops and high priced condos.  The artists wish to turn the home into an art and performance space, letting Hughes inspire yet another generation of creatives.They are working on raising $150,000 to rent the space via an internet campaign on Indiegogo.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a pioneering poet, playwright and writer, who was active during the Harlem Renaissance. He was the voice of the average African American at the time, using his pen to record pain and injustice. Hughes’ work was written for the average person, not just for the elite.  He promoted young writers and poets, giving many generations a voice as well as an outlet for their creativity.  You may learn more about him through a great piece by the Bio Channel.

One poem of his that I find timeless and inspiring is “I Look at the World”

I look at the world

By Langston Hughes

I look at the world

From awakening eyes in a black face—

And this is what I see:

This fenced-off narrow space   

Assigned to me.

 

I look then at the silly walls

Through dark eyes in a dark face—

And this is what I know:

That all these walls oppression builds

Will have to go!

 

I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/langston-hughes#poet

Even though his Harlem residence was given landmark status, the residence is still up for sale.

What is distressing to me is what is happening to Harlem in general.

Harlem to me as a New Yorker was the Apollo Theatre, a great place to get my hair done, to get African fabrics and hair supplies off of 125th.  It’s the mecca for African American history in the North, which is where I hail from.

 

I knew it was bad when I went during Thanksgiving of 2012.  My husband and I were meeting friends at an African restaurant in Harlem – and I noticed on my phone that the area was being referred to as “Manhattan Valley”

I said what the H? That area is straight up Harlem, why are folks renaming it?

There is only one reason – re-branding, and making the area more attractive to buyers.  In the process, erase the rich history of the Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Frederick Douglass Blvd, and make it something completely new.

A recent New York Times article detailed what I was seeing in my last trip to Harlem in 2012 — historic sites were being demolished, and long time residents were being pushed out for the sake of “progress”.

It’s insulting and upsetting.

Progress need not come with the destruction of history.

The same way we save Abraham Lincoln’s home and other treasures of American History, we must save Harlem and what made it critical to our cultural growth as a nation.

We need to save our history, because Black History is intertwined with American history.

I donated to the Indiegogo campaign — if you want to preserve American history, please do so by donating here!

artist for hughes
Support these artists in saving American History!! Photo from CNN.com

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

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It’s rare that you get a front row seat to watch history happen. Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of watching Judge Darrin Gayles become the first openly gay African American male judge on the federal bench. This event, called an investiture, was filled with the Judge’s friends, colleagues, and certainly did not disappoint.

I’m not a huge fan of labels– I’d rather call him what he is. A smart, kind, funny, person; an uber qualified judge, who gives back to the community.

But, that’s not the world we are in. We focus on labels. Knowing this, what does one do?

You do like Judge Gayles, embracing it and turning it into a positive.

In a very emotional speech, he outlined his path from humble beginnings as a son of a young widow in Peoria, Illinois to history making judge. He worked hard, maintaining full time employment and going to school. He had great role models (which is why he volunteers time to mentor young men in the community). Judge Gayles was a state and federal prosecutor, then became a state judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Miami Dade County).

President Obama nominated him early this year to be a federal judge to the Southern District of Florida. Judge Gayles was confirmed by the Senate 98-0, clearing the way for the historic event.

What really struck me was when he said ” there is a difference between living your life openly, and living your life publicly“. He was openly gay, and it was not really a big deal day to day in his world. But when he went through the confirmation process, his entire life became public. The fact he was a gay man seeking confirmation as a federal judge became international news.

But in that moment….he became a role model to so many more people. Judge Gayles told a story about how he was out one night, and a young woman, having recognized him, ran up to him, and tearfully told him how much his journey had inspired her to live openly in her truth.

As an attorney, I have been to dozens of these events. I have never been so moved as when Judge Gayles began to speak about his faith in God; he could barely hold back his tears as he acknowledged the blessings bestowed upon his life, including the love of his partner Raymond. “Great is Thy faithfulness” he quoted. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”

It was a wrap for me. Thank heavens my mascara was waterproof.

Congratulations Judge Gayles. Keep rising, keep shining, and keep reaching back to inspire others!